Although nothing quite took my breath away like my first view of Mount Rushmore, this weekend was full of amazing sights. Dana and I took off to take in some more New England states, and the country's Capital City, Washington DC.
For the second time in six months, Dana 'shut up shop' early. Our flight to North Carolina was on time and we were making good time until sixty miles from the airport, when the Captain announced; 'They've just closed down Charlotte' Apparently there was a very bad storm that stopped planes from taking off, and landing. He assured us this would not be a problem if we had a connection, as all flights were on hold. Dana spent ten years in the military, as an air traffic controller and started to explain the procedure. I am not sure whether it is an advantage, or not, travelling with a professional. He told me that the 'turns' in a holding pattern were a minute long. He sat there timing each turn. It did nothing for my nerves when he said, 'that one was a minute and a half; we may have to divert'. As we were only going to have two full days, our itinerary was very structured. If we were diverted, our plans would be thwarted. Of course, panic was the only option! Fortunately, the airport was open and we did not miss our connection. Unfortunately, our connection was coming in from Florida, and had hit the storm from the other end. Our 9.30pm flight finally took off at 12.15am and landed in Baltimore at 1.30am. The car rental booth was manned by one rather efficient employee, and one with a modicum of knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic. Keyboard skills were not her strong point, and she seemed to be playing a game of 'simple simon'. Presumably the screen was telling her, 'put your hands in the air, and wave them about', and she was following orders. Guess which attendant saw to us!! About half an hour later, after explaining that having the same last name, and referring to me as his 'wife', did in fact mean that Dana and I were married, she printed out a contract that allowed us both to drive the same car! She had no idea how to get to the hotel, but the guard at the exit would be sure to help. The exit was, unbeknown to all, a highly guarded secret. An arrow would point one way, we would follow, and there would be a 'no entry' sign across a menacing barrier. Eventually, after following every sign, and travelling through the maze, we saw the booth that would allow departure from this parking facility. The guard, I presumed, was the father of our car rental lady. He wore the same vacant look, and spent an eternity checking our paperwork. Eventually, he nodded and told us to have a nice day. At nearly 3am, our previous day had not finished, and it was turning out not to be so 'nice'. We surprised him by asking for directions but the fog seemed to finally clear, and his eyes brightened. When giving directions, I am often teased about my inability to know my left from my right. Apparently it is rather a common disability, and one from which our exit guard suffered, albeit unknown to us. Taking a left, and then two rights, took us to a part of town where not even the vagrants inhabit. Lost in an unknown city in the small hours is not my idea of fun. Being highly efficient in all things, Dana had actually printed out maps for our entire weekend, and in the middle of nowhere he attempted to decipher our whereabouts. After several exclamations of 'useless', I suggested we discuss the inaccuracy of the cartographer in the morning, and find someone who could help us on our way. The gentleman manning the gas station was very helpful. He, too, went to the same school as the exit guard to learn his directional skills, and we learned that Baltimore has at least two 'dead' areas. Eventually, we saw a sign for 'hotel district' and found our destination on a road two blocks from the airport. By 3.45am we were fast asleep.
Alarms can be quite cruel, and the one that sounded at 7am Saturday morning was one of the meanest I have ever heard. However, we took to the road, followed the inaccurate map and headed in the wrong direction. I am very happy following road signs, which are generally very good, and which led us to a bridge that crossed the Baltimore Bay. To say the bridge was high would be an understatement. Parasailers go under! We found our way to Delaware, and got out of the car to take the obligatory photograph at the side of the highway. A patrol car had pulled up, and a rather gruff looking uniformed man was walking towards us. I was growling under my breath for Dana to be quick, when the said man called out to him, and asked; 'Want me to take one of both of you?' When Dana explained our objective, he suggested we cross the (busy) highway to get the Maryland sign too!
Despite the printed imprecision in our directional ools, we found the ferry that took us across to Cape May in New Jersey. I have been on many car ferries, but never actually driven on or off. Today was going to be my first. I drove into the Garden State and kept to the speed limit all the way to Pennsylvania. Signs that ranged between 25mph and 55mph, mainly the former, meant that we took a considerably long time to reach Philadelphia. The map failed to lead us to a highway, and the road signs were equally elusive. We saw the Interstate from a distance, but it would tease us with its existence, and then disappear from view. Philadelphia was as fast and furious as New Jersey was not! I felt totally at home, and was very grateful for my years as a Taxi Driver around London. Calculated risks was a phrase my father used when referring to driving, and I took many, with the desired results. I drove into the parking garage under Independence Hall.
In order to see Independence Hall, tickets were required. The tickets are free, but limited. Unfortunately, all were taken for the day. Fortunately, none were needed to see the Liberty Bell, which was the main objective of our trip. Once again, I had another tick on my wish list. As I said in the beginning, it did not take my breath away, as did Mount Rushmore, but it was very exciting, none the less! The architectural structures around the square were amazing. Very old, and very colonial. Once again, this city combined our heritage. I was from the Old Country, and Dana from the new. We left Philadelphia, having seen the Phillies Baseball Stadium and Philadelphia Eagles Football Stadium, and drove back into New Jersey, and then back into Delaware. Absolutely exhausted, we thought it best to eat on the way back to the hotel, and found a familiar sign. We knew the Cracker Barrel restaurant would serve good food and we enjoyed every bite. I was asleep before nine and woke up only once before six.
I have never been considered a control freak, until it comes to travel by air. I could not leave the hotel until I had checked us in on our home bound flight. This was essential. I could not do it in the afternoon, or evening. Being able to check in 24 hours before a flight, in my mind, means checking in 24 hours, exactly, before the flight. Fifteen minutes past eight saw us checked in and allowed me to feel a whole lot better! I have convinced Dana that my OCD in this area is helped by this action.
We drove straight into Washington DC. Well, very nearly. This time the fault was driver error (I was not driving, and Dana threatened to plead the 5th if asked) but it was corrected very efficiently. Union Station is impressive. We ate breakfast and went to find our first bus. We were going to 'hop on' and 'hop off' all day. This was a Capital City, and like my native Capital City, London, it was busy, and full of life. Vast complexes with parks and quiet places. Lots of history. We did indeed 'hop on' and 'hop off'. I saw all the sights that I had wanted to see. The Lincoln Memorial was another tick on the list, as well as the White House and the Pentagon. Riding over the bridge to Virginia allowed me to reach my half way mark. I have visited 25 states (not including airports). We got off the bus at Arlington Cemetery and walked to the top, where we made it in time to see the changing of the guard for the Unknown Soldier. Seeing the tomb of JFK was rather interesting. We made it back onto the bus and went to see the Declaration of Independence and the Hope Diamond, along with many other monuments and sights. We managed to see everything that we planned, and planned to come back to see everything we didn't.
As mentioned on many occasions, I am not the most co-ordinated person, and that coupled with the fact that my camera has taken an independent stand, left me with photos of many people whom I did not know in my memorabilia. Every time I clicked, someone decided to move. I cannot blame the tools!
We left Washington and drove back to Maryland and straight to the hotel. I knew we would manage a direct hit at least once! We had a wonderful meal in Baltimore, and returned to finish our packing.
Our trip home was reasonable uneventful. Dana had an exit seat which gave him more leg room. I had a wonderful seat, as I was upgraded to first class. Dana called me when we landed in Houston to let me know that the back of the plane had a safe arrival! Houston to Austin we sat together in a nice comfy bulkhead seat. Coming into Austin, we saw some of the fires that are raging through the state of Texas, especially near to our home.
Despite the obvious concern about our neighbourhood, nothing could take away the facdt that we had an amazing trip and saw more of this beautiful country. I still think the Lincoln Memorial was the highlight. In Washington, he is sitting down; in London, he stands. My dad always said (in London) that Lincoln sat down when no one was looking. Samantha asked if in Washington he gets up and walks around! I wonder what dad would have said, and perhaps I could make that....another story.